LGBT community seeks to stay strong together

LGBT community seeks strength in togetherness

  • Mareatha Wallace, of Amherst, wearing teal and standing near tree, speaks Monday on the Amherst Common during a vigil held to mourn lives lost in the Orlando shootings Sunday.

Published: 6/13/2016 10:22:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Members of the local LGBT community and their allies are reeling from the targeted hate displayed Sunday morning during the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, that claimed 49 lives.

Lena Wilson of Easthampton said she went online to figure out what happened after a text message alerted her to the shooting.

“I went through all five stages of grief in 10 seconds,” she said, noting that she grew up in Clearwater, Florida — roughly two hours from Orlando. “I don’t think I stopped crying for most of the day Sunday.”

Across the Valley, people were pondering the tragedy and finding ways to have an impact, from leaders of a church and school to the mayor of a city. On Monday morning, the Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher issued a statement to all members of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts.

“The public health crisis that is gun violence just claimed 50 more lives,” he said. “Add this to the 91 per day that die in the United States through gun violence,” the statement continued.

“When will we wake up?” Fisher asked. “When will our elected officials show some courage? In the wake of the slaughter and wounding of 100 LGBTQ people in Orlando, we must acknowledge that homophobia and racism are also at the heart of our disease.”

“Our love surrounds all who bear the weight of this tragedy,” Fisher added in closing.

Easthampton Mayor Karen L. Cadieux said she and City Council President Joseph McCoy are working together to put rainbow-colored ribbons on the fencing at the municipal office building.

Annmary Boruchowski of Dandelions floral design studio will donate the ribbons. McCoy said that visibility will bring attention to the “combination of shock and outrage we feel at this hate crime, as well as acknowledging that Easthampton is a welcoming community for all.”

Social work dean

Marianne Yoshioka, dean of Smith College’s School for Social Work, said it is crucial that people affected by the incident are listened to and supported.

She said her students are likely to meet people who have been touched by the Orlando shooting during their field placements beginning in September. “The number of these incidents is rising, and they often have ties to mental health,” she said.

It is also important for clinical social workers to agree with the people they help that fears following this kind of event are reasonable, said Yoshioka.

“There will be lingering impact for years to come, and I trust my students could be of great service to be that place to listen,” she said, adding that reducing isolation is key.

Hurt by hatred

Hind Mari of Amherst, who is Muslim, is well connected to the LGBT community. Just a few days ago, she notes, she was celebrating her daughter’s high school graduation at a gathering with her husband Abed Jaradat and many of their close LGBT friends.

“I can’t even tell you where to start,” she said in reference to her emotions upon hearing of the shooting. “Basically I’m hurt over the horrible loss of lives and also about the hatred out there in the world.”

Mari also fears that the tragedy will be taken as an excuse for Islamophobia.

“The Islam I know doesn’t condone anything like that,” she said. “I don’t know any Muslim person who is in agreement with this. Everyone is horrified.”

On top of all her sadness about the “act of anger itself,” Mari noted, she feels added pain that Muslim perpetrators seem to be “immediately attached to their faith,” in a way that she feels others who have carried out violent attacks are not. Many other religions, she said, have associations of violence against certain groups that are not indicative of all people with that faith.

“He doesn’t represent me, or Islam,” she said. “To me this shooting is an issue of oppression – a human rights issue.”

Mari said she does not see LGBT people and Muslim people as exclusive communities, because she knows people who belong to both.

“We don’t wear hats saying which group we identify with,” she said. “When you don’t interact with who is different from you, you make all the wrong assumptions about them.”

Mari and Wilson both said they hope all community members will converge to stand in solidarity for the victims.

Wilson added that as a lesbian, she knows how precious LGBT spaces are in that community and grieves the lives lost and altered.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the alternate universe that definitely exists where I could have been there,” she said. But the shock won’t keep Wilson from raising her voice in support and solidarity with those impacted.

She has organized a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. Wednesday in front of Northampton City Hall. The event will serve to amplify the voices of the community by providing a place for them to “express grief in a way that will allow them to be heard,” she said.

Wilson added that the shooting at the nightclub took place on Latin night, meaning that persons who are both LGBT and Latino and who already had a very limited space had that same space violated Sunday morning.

“I don’t think there is such a thing as being unshaken by this,” she said. Wilson is also trying to incorporate support for the Muslim community into the vigil, because she knows they face much hate following violent events which have been linked to radical Islam.

“The knee-jerk reaction since 9/11 is to sort of engineer this nationwide backlash indiscriminately against all Muslim people,” she said. “It’s hugely important to acknowledge that people who are both LGBT and Muslim exist.

She said those of Muslim faith need to be included in conversations of targeted hate and marginalization in order to start a discussion that is “as productive and healing as it possibly can be.”

In the days that follow, Wilson said she is looking to heal in “the best way she can.”

She said she plans to continue on in her pursuit of social justice and community building with “added fervor.”

Events in support of those affected are being held across western Massachusetts and Wilson hopes that if people feel comfortable, they will show up to find a sense of “togetherness.”

“One of the worst things that can happen as a result is feeling like you’re alone,” she said.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at


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